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2014 BMW M235i (MM/BMW)
2014 BMW M235i (MM/BMW)

Road Test

Review: BMW's budget performance car a brilliant compromise Add to ...

BMW’s world is largely comprised of 3,000 versions of the world’s best-selling premium compact car, the 3-Series. I exaggerate only slightly. BMW’s genius is to take economies of scale, multiply them and spit out cars for passionate drivers willing to pay extra.

Which explains why BMW is a global powerhouse easily capable of launching a new 2-Series using much of the engineering from the 3-Series.

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That’s not in any way to undermine the 2014 M235i. This Bimmer is nearly a match on the road and track for supercars that cost thousands more – such as the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray ($54,845) and the 2014 Porsche 911 Carrera S ($112,800). A comparably equipped ’Vette is nearly $11,000 more, while the Porsche is at an $85,000 premium. That is, until you start larding on BMW’s options. My tester came with nearly $9,000 in extras. That final BMW price came to within $3,370 of the ’Vette, but stretched the 911 gap to nearly $87,000.

Yes, car shopping requires you to do the math; I did because I wanted to answer these questions: If I were looking for the best buy in a raw performance machine, with no practical considerations, would I buy the 455-horsepower ’Vette? Yes. With money no object, is the 400-hp 911 a wonderful balance of track-hugging skills, everyday livability and brand presence? Absolutely. But as a total performance/luxury package, is the M235i an ideal compromise? Yes, indeed.

Don’t believe just me. I agree with the testers at Consumer Reports. The consensus: the M235i is energetic and fast, predictable and capable, balanced and poised at high speeds and comfy at low ones. The 322-hp inline turbo six is a gem, spinning up like a turbine when you punch the throttle. Like every BMW manual gearbox, the six-speed in this car is the industry standard for precision and smoothness.

BMW service is notoriously pricey and anecdotal evidence (e-mails, Globe Drive online comments, phone calls, discussions on the street) suggests that some BMW dealers aren’t as user-friendly as owners would like. But as the M235i demonstrates, the cars themselves are brilliant.

Tech Specs

2014 BMW M235i

Base price: $45,000; As-tested: $54,730 (including $985 freight)

Engine: 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder

Transmission: Six-speed manual

Drive: Rear-wheel drive

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 7.3 city/6.5 highway, using premium fuel

Alternatives: Test against supercars such as the Porsche 911 Carrera S and Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, but also cross-shop with Audi A5, Cadillac CTS coupe, Infiniti Q60 coupe, Mercedes-Benz C350 coupe

*****

Looks

BMW adheres to a corporate design language that has been called many sausages in different lengths and sizes. The M25i does not stray from the corporate standard, but it looks powerful and has presence.

Interior

The confounding iDrive controller has evolved since the early 2000s, but less stubborn car companies have found easier ways to give users access to basic functions such as setting radio presets and inputting a navigation destination. The seats are fantastic, however, and the instruments classical in their design and function. iDrive, however, remains an abomination.

Technology

The turbo engine spins up gobs of power, yet is relatively fuel efficient. The list of active and passive safety features stretches nearly to infinity.

Cargo

The trunk is small, big enough perhaps for a couple of rollaboards and a toothbrush.

You’ll like this car if: You want a performance coupe from a strong brand that delivers equally on the track and highway.

The Verdict

9.0: The obvious competition includes Audi’s A5 and the like, but it’s also reasonable to compare the M235i to performance machines that cost thousands more – the car is that good.

If you have questions about driving or car maintenance, please contact our experts at globedrive@globeandmail.com.

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